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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – January 2010

Torah binder
cotton linen, embroidery in cotton yarn
Inscription: “This was donated by Simon Slánský and his wife Hayyah Rachel from Nezvěstice, may they live to a hundred, for their son, the young man Abraham, who was born in happiness on the 17th of Tevet 660 according to the minor era (= 19 December 1899), may the Lord grant them to raise him to the Torah, to the wedding canopy and to good deeds, amen.
Inv. No. JMP 000.213

The Slánský family moved to the village of Nezvěstice near Pilsen, west Bohemia, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, probably from the nearby village of Žákavá. The merchant Simon Slánský was born on the 26th of September 1870 and lived at house no. 13, where he also had a shop. His brother Vítězslav, who was born on the 28th of January 1873, was a successful doctor who also prospered. In 1899 Simon and Hayyah Rachel Slánský had a son, Abraham (who probably went by the civil name Joseph), followed by Rudolph two years later and another son, Richard, in 1904. Simon Slánský later had another son, Zdeňek, with his second wife in 1907.
Simon Slánský continued to thrive before the Second World War; in 1936 he even had a new house and shop built in Nezvěstice. The war, however, tragically affected the fate of the whole family: Simon’s son Joseph was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 and then Simon, Vítězslav (Siegfried) and their sister Jindřiška (Henrietta, born on the 25th of December 1883) and Simon’s youngest son Zdeněk (born on the 28th of August 1907) were all deported on Transport T from Pilsen to Terezín on the 26th of January 1942. Apart from Zdeněk – who survived deportation to Auschwitz but perished at the end of the war in the Dachau concentration camp – they all died in Terezín. Simon’s son Richard survived the war in exile in London, and his son Rudolf – who later became General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and was condemned to death in a famous Communist show trial – survived the war in exile in Moscow.
The Torah binder is a synagogue textile object that is made of the swaddling cloth that a newborn Jewish boy was wrapped in during the circumcision rite. The swaddling cloth is later washed and turned into a long strip on which is embroidered a dedicatory inscription with basic biographical information about the boy. Abraham Slánský’s binder dates from a period when Torah binders were made from a boy’s swaddling only rarely in west Bohemia. This reflects the fact that the Slánský family adhered to very traditional religious customs but also shows that the Czech version of the surname Salzmann – Slánský – (unlike as was the case with Rudolph) was already used in a civil and religious context around 1900. Abraham Slánský’s binder has the serial number 936 in a list of textile binder donations from Bohemia and Moravia. It is not clear why the Litomyšl collection point is given in the index card of the Jewish Museum’s wartime register for this item, but was probably the result of an error by staff at the wartime Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The provenance of the binder (Nezvěstice from Pilsen) is clearly mentioned in the dedicatory inscription and has been verified by further research.

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